2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43: 402 hp from only 4 cylinders

2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43: 402 hp from only 4 cylinders
The 2023 Mercedes-AMG C 43 won’t be the most powerful version of the Mercedes C-Class small sedan. But it might be for the best.

To refresh your memory, the C-Class is often the gateway to the Mercedes range. It competes with the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 for the attention of buyers looking for a sporty luxury sedan that can meet the needs of a family, but still offer a thrill when the road gets twisty.

Mercedes released an all-new one for 2022, with one of the sharpest interiors we’ve ever seen and a mild hybrid system that borrows Formula 1 technology to deliver more power at the touch of a button.

Now, Mercedes’ AMG performance division has released the first of two versions of the car it plans to build. A more powerful, more expensive AMG C 63 will come later. It will likely borrow a bigger engine from a bigger Mercedes to make headlines. But it will probably also be rare.

The AMG C 43 is perhaps more accessible and in some ways more impressive for what it packs into a small package. Mercedes has not released pricing information. The standard C-Class starts at $43,550. If the usual AMG rules apply, that means this is most likely a $60,000 car.

And what a $60,000 car is.

A flyweight fight and a new technology

Automotive engineers are fighting a truly impressive battle that most people won’t notice this year. They compete to see how much power they can squeeze out of a small engine. Just three weeks ago, engineers from Toyota’s Gazoo Racing division threw down a gauntlet by debuting a new GR Corolla that put out an astonishing 300 horsepower from just three cylinders. Few production engines can reach 100 horsepower per cylinder.

The pros at Mercedes’ high-performance AMG unit just picked up that gauntlet. Their answer: a 4-cylinder that produces 402 horsepower.

Under the hood of the AMG C 43 is a 2.0-litre engine that delivers power that only 4-litre engines could do a decade ago. It does it with a combination of that mild-hybrid boost system and a unique electric exhaust gas turbo.

Skip this section if technique bores you. Turbochargers increase engine power by forcing compressed air into an engine’s combustion chamber. But they use a turbine that is powered by the exhaust gas from the engine, which means they only start… after an engine has done enough work to produce some exhaust fumes.

Engineers often minimize that “turbolag” by using two. A small, lightweight turbo boosts power at low speed and passes the work on to a larger, heavier one as the engine accelerates. Mercedes’ system instead uses electricity to start the turbine, so it kicks in immediately and does the job of both.

The result? 100.25 horsepower per cylinder. Gazoo’s engineers nod respectfully and go back to the drawing board.

Four-wheel drive, rear-wheel steering

That power is sent to all four wheels via a 9-speed wet-clutch automatic transmission. Power is directed backwards – 61% of that goes there – for a sportier ride. That handling gets another boost with four-wheel steering – rare in a car of this size.

AMG says the C 43 should go from 0 to 100 km/h in about 4.5 seconds.

Stealth AMG Looks

Unlike many other AMG products, this one doesn’t get any radical exterior changes to reveal its athletic qualities.

The distinctive AMG grille with vertical slats lets Mercedes fans know that it is not a normal C-Class. An AMG-exclusive bumper has larger air intakes. And four tailpipes in the rear replace the usual two. Otherwise, only the AMG emblem betrays it.

Inside, the C43 gets sport seats covered in Mercedes’ own MB-Tex leatherette and microfiber (the fake stuff isn’t cheap by AMG; it wears better over time than real hides and stays supple with less intensive care). Genuine Nappa leather and non-slip Alcantara synthetic suede cover the handlebars. The carbon fiber trim is exclusive to AMG.

The usual MBUX entertainment system runs on the 12.3-inch screen. But it also powers an AMG exclusive Track Pace data logger – an option – that records more than 80 vehicle-specific data points such as speed, acceleration, steering angle and brake pedal actuation 10 times per second.